WITHIN the ecclesiastical confines the angels are at work.

T’ is always the season for busyness at this time of year but the true meaning of Christmas can be found here in this cosy and comfortable place where volunteers bustle about tending to their special guests.

Behind the serving hatch chatter intersperses the culinary activity - the preparation of a chicken dinner ready to be served on tables topped with red and white gingham table cloths - and that’s not the only attention to detail......

Walking through the main church - one of 17 in Bradford and district providing shelter to the homeless and vulnerable during the winter months - we arrive in a cosy and homely room laid out with beds - each with their own colourful bedding - items the guests can take with them when they move into a home of their own.

For now, though, this is their sanctuary where they can rest and relax with people who are there to support them and put a roof over their heads. This is the opposite of cold comfort - it is, for them, a sanctuary away from the streets.

Watching the guests chatting with the volunteers - one of whom is suitably attired in a Rudolph jumper helping to spread the festive spirit - the feeling of contentment among them is palpable.

Despite the circumstances which have led the guests here, and the reasons are many and varied, the room is radiated by smiling faces.

For the time they are here, cared for and supported in the next step to seeking permanent accommodation, they are happy and that is what makes the work of Inn Churches so important.

It is nine years since the Bradford-based organisation opened its first winter shelter as Juli Thompson, the charity’s CEO, recalls.

She explains the idea was prompted following the previous year’s increase in the deaths of rough sleepers on the city’s streets.

Conscious this situation wasn’t good enough, Juli was determined to make a change.

“The year before we set up five people died in the city rough sleeping,” says Juli.

In acknowledgement of those who have lost their lives in such circumstances, every year Inn Churches hosts an annual Remembrance Service at Bradford Cathedral.

“Last year we read out 40 names who had died in West Yorkshire. This year we read out 65,” says Juli.

Demand is indicative through the existence of initiatives such as the winter shelter.

“I thought it would be two years and things would be ok but, sadly, it has at least doubled,” says Juli, referring to the growth in demand on the winter shelter.

When it opened in early December the shelter was full for the first week and, 10 days in, they have already had 35 referrals.

While there are 17 churches hosting guests on a rota, those churches are supported by 70 other churches in the city and district.

Juli explains funding for the shelter comes from donations and initiatives such as the homeless beanies created to raise cash to buy essentials for the guests such as bedding, and events including Suits on the Streets which encourages fundraisers to swap their comfy confines for a night sleeping under the arches close to Bradford’s Forster Square station. This initiative also raises money to support the winter shelter and gives participants the opportunity to experience what life is like for those sleeping on the streets.

After all, homelessness can - and does - happen to anyone and for a variety of reasons....

Job losses, funding cuts and Universal Credit have all been contributory factors, according to Juli.

But, for a short time, before they find a home of their own they can find comfort within this homely space.

Says Juli: “They form a community here. The majority of people we see are lovely people - they’ve just fallen on bad times.”

Juli believes prevention is better than cure and hopes initiatives such as the Homelessness Reduction Act will help tackle the issue.

“If we can get to people before they are made homeless a lot of the problems can be alleviated,” she says.

With some of her family in Australia, Juli is spending the festive season creating a Christmas for the Inn Churches guests to remember.

“You re-prioritise what Christmas means because we tend to get pulled into the commercial side, but it’s about being a better human being,” says Juli.

Visit innchurches.co.uk.